Over the past week I have been reviewing the 250 pages of Special Branch files on Samuel that were revealed through my FOI request. They present an extraordinary record of his desperate 18 year struggle to gain British naturalization, including harrowing details about his life that my grandmother never shared with the family. Thanks to the steely determination of just one man, a Mr J.D. Strathan who was the Procurator Fiscal in Glasgow, utterly determined to drive Samuel out of the country, he spent most of his life in Britain as an ‘alien’.
At last I know why he studied for so many years to become a Glasgow lawyer and ended up instead as a GP: without British citizenship his qualifications were useless, and J.D. Strathan was fully aware of this. His career as a Scottish lawyer was destroyed by this man before it had even begun.
Reading through the sheer vindictiveness of these reports, the complete absence of any valid reasons for refusal and my grandfather’s increasingly desperate applications for naturalization, I am reminded of the current Home Office attitude to refugees currently imprisoned at Campsfield House in Oxford, something that has always irked me.
Samuel was finally granted naturalization in 1934, 29 years after arriving in Glasgow as a 16 year old schoolboy and just 9 years before his death from a heart attack aged 55. Extraordinarily, I have discovered that in marrying him, my Scottish grandmother not only became a Jew but also lost her British nationality for a period of 11 years, only reinstated once Samuel had gained naturalization himself in 1934. These documents also show that the very next day after their Jewish wedding ceremony, the honeymoon couple left for either Latvia or Lithuania and stayed there for a year. I do remember my grandmother mentioning an unhappy period spent living in one of these Baltic states but I had no idea that this had been her first year of marriage or that she had just lost her British citizenship.
That these records reveal so much detail about Samuel’s life is due to his obligation to go through the application process 7 times, each time explaining his background, his family history, his current work, his associates, the deaths and injuries to his relatives, etc. Each application reveals how he was supported by MPs and local pillars of the community, and each refusal provides further details about his life.
Thanks to J.D. Strathan, a man I can only visualise as the neurotically vindictive prison officer Mr. Mackay in the 1970s sitcom Porridge, Samuel’s life story is recorded in such detail that I have a mountain of source material to explore as I continue my research. However, I will end this post with some words written in my grandfather’s own handwriting which are simply heart-breaking, part of his appeal for naturalization in 1925:
‘The want of [naturalization] has held me up for the last eight years in disqualifying me from engaging the only profession for which I have spent years and years of study. It cuts across my whole career, cripples me and prejudices not only my own welfare – the welfare of an alien – but also the welfare of my wife and child, natural born Britishers with every claim for a fair chance in their own country…By denying me naturalization a stranglehold is exercised upon me for life.’